Start Right Here (Teaching Mindfulness to Youth Pt.1)
January 23, 2010
Mindfulness is described as “allowing things to be as they are, resting in awareness, and then, taking appropriate action when called for” (Jon Kabat Zinn). Introducing adolescents to the practice of mindfulness requires patience and creativity. Providing an experience of mindfulness in a playful way can help youth gain a reference point, or view, of how mindfulness practice works.
One way to create a mindful experience is to use the environment within which you are working. For example, my middle school yoga students have the daily task of moving chairs and tables in our multi-purpose room to make space for yoga practice. A couple of weeks into the start of a semester, I put small, colorful plastic bowls of water on each table. Students enjoy the “game” of moving the tables carefully without spilling the water. They must focus on their movements and work together to succeed. This routine task of moving furniture is generally a mundane time of mindlessness. Students tend to chat and socialize, barely paying any attention to what they are doing. Add the water bowls and the task transforms into a quiet, mindful activity.
Once the tables and chairs are put away, we continue the game by arranging our mats mindfully. To illustrate the difference, I first ask students to hurry up, make 3 rows and put their mats down quickly while talking to as many classmates as possible. They love the chaos of this part of the game! After the mats are haphazardly placed, we step back and take a look at the results. Everyone agrees that a messy room won’t help our yoga practice. So, I ask students to roll their mats and silently form 3 rows. They are guided to keep their mats folded until I ring a bell. Instead of guiding students to make neat, symmetrical rows, I allow them to use non-verbal communication to configure their rows. Once they have achieved a balanced formation, I ring the bell. The pay-off to all of this mindfulness is when they get to all flip their mats open all at once and the colorful banners blossom around the room. Then, we survey our results and celebrate our efforts.
Setting up our yoga room mindfully sets the tone for our whole practice. Now, I can easily ask students to apply these same techniques of watching and listening to their asana (posture) and pranayama (breathing) practices. Once this basic “view” of mindfulness is established, teaching mindfulness while in sitting posture comes much easier.
Think about the environment in which you teach and find a creative way to introduce the practice of being mindful within a task that students are already engaging in.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Sounds All Around which will focus on introducing youth to mindfulness while being still in once place.